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Oman's elections bring hopes, doubts of institutional change

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Record number of candidates

There is a record number of candidates seeking a seat in the assembly this year, but at least some Omanis are skeptical that assembly members and those who aspire to join them have a genuine desire to improve the country.

“All the members have personal interests. The majlis is a game,” says recent university graduate Azzan al-Hilali, adding that members don't make a sincere effort to represent the people. “They earn enough money to widen their homes, and after four years they’re finished.”

According to Sayyida Tamadhir Al-Busaidi, director of the elections department in the Interior Ministry, 1,133 candidates have registered to compete for the 84 seats in Saturday's election.

But Mr. al-Hilali says the increase in numbers is only due to a desire to hold higher government positions in the future.

“The reason why there are so many candidates is because they want to become ministers,” he says.

In an unprecedented move, the sultan selected seven former majlis members to hold minister positions in a cabinet shakeup earlier in the year.

Skepticism about the assembly

Until the majlis is given the new powers promised by the sultan, the majlis doesn’t hold explicit power; its authorities include the ability to question government ministers and review government policy. Political parties are banned in Oman and individuals run independently for various districts around the country.

Murshid Al-Harthy, a university student, said the effectiveness of the majlis depends upon the motives of the members.

“It depends on candidates [being] willing to push themselves,” he says. He adds that he won’t vote because he doesn’t know enough about the candidates.

Hamdan Al-Siyyabi, a soldier, is more optimistic about the majlis’ actions.

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